Kingdom People – Forgiveness
Pastor Sam Tidball – July 19, 2020
“When you are living your life as a kingdom person, it means that you are making the Kingdom of God the nucleus of your living. Being a kingdom person is more than just going to church, or even being deeply involved in church activities. It’s a complete heart change that spreads throughout every area of your life.” – Pastor Vannae
I love the way Pastor Vannae articulates this idea of what it means to be Kingdom People. It’s one thing to wear the Christian label, but it’s another thing to live out our faith in a way that transforms us and the world. Pastor Donnell preached last week about how Kingdom living means loving others radically with our generosity.
I think one of the most challenging ways Jesus has invited me to participate in Kingdom living, is by requiring followers to forgive others. This goes against every bit of my personality and natural inclinations.
I can particularly remember when I was young, I didn’t know much about the Bible or what it meant to participate in God’s holy Kingdom. I believed God created the world, but I was clueless about the forgiveness of Jesus. My favorite kind of movies and TV shows growing up were classic revenge stories. I loved when the bad guys got what they had coming to them. This belief played out in my life in second grade. I am not proud to say, but I got in a fight with a boy from my class because some other kids told me he was calling me names. I decided this kid needed to be taught a lesson. I told him to meet me in the field after school. Unfortunately, he accepted my challenge. When I saw him, I threw my Beauty and the Beast knapsack on the ground and charged at him. I won’t go into the violent details that happened next. Let’s just say the fight ended with this kid on the ground crying and me running home hoping not to get caught. This is not the way of Kingdom People. I wish I knew then what I know now about mercy and forgiveness. I tell you this story to give you a picture of who I was before Jesus showed me a better way.
Fast forward to when I was a teenager, I started to read and study my Bible for the first time. I soaked up the forgiveness story of the gospel and it was easy to accept how God could forgive me. What I didn’t appreciate was when I read stories in the Bible about how God wants us to forgive others. I thought this was absolutely absurd. It flipped my worldview upside down. Why would God want us to forgive others who are jerks? Or abusers? Or horrible people? Why does God want us to be weak and let people just take advantage of us? God’s lessons about forgiveness went against my worldview of being tough and teaching people a lesson if they had it coming. So I really wrestled with these stories of forgiving others. But the Unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35 hit me hard after reading how serious God was about forgiving others.
You witnessed in the Lego version of this parable (thanks to my kids) how the King cancels the servant’s debt, but the servant refused to cancel out other’s who owed him money and he threw them in jail. This made the King angry, so in the end he throws this guy in jail until he pays his entire debt. Jesus says, this is what God will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.
What does this story teach us about who God is?
- God deeply cares about forgiveness.
- One of God’s deepest desires is for us to love each other. Because at the root of forgiveness is love.
- As much as God loves and forgiveness, God passionately hates un-forgiveness, grudges, hypocrisy
At the beginning of this parable, Peter asks how many times he should forgive someone guessing maybe seven times. Assuming seven times on his part was actually pretty generous. Jewish tradition specified that one should forgive someone at least three times. Jews had strict laws about forgiveness. Atonement was only achievable through specific actions and rituals. This deeply impacted how and when Jews chose to forgive on a personal level. Forgiveness had limits, and here Jesus was flipping their idea of forgiveness up side down by saying forgiveness has no limits (77) was a hyperbole.
Are we so different than the Jews back in Biblical times? Some of us, perhaps more than others, demand specific actions and rituals to take place in order to hold someone accountable for their actions. There’s nothing wrong with wanting justice and accountability. In fact, we can have both accountability and forgiveness. We can have both because forgiveness doesn’t require us to let the evil actions continue. Forgiveness is not looking the other way, pretending nothing happened. Forgiveness is not bottling up our hurt because we are too afraid to confront our oppressor. Actually forgiveness does quite the opposite. The process of forgiving often brings the evil and pain to the surface so we can lay it at the feet of Jesus and take our hands off that person’s neck. We can hand our rage over to God and still desire our oppressors to be held accountable so they don’t cause more harm to others or ourselves. Friends, I have been on a long journey about forgiveness so I had to lay down some of that truth before we dive any deeper. Forgiveness is a topic where God radically changed my whole thought process of what it means to be a Kingdom Person who forgives.
It’s interesting to me how the parable in Matthew 18 uses this idea of God putting us in prison if we don’t forgive. I have learned that un-forgiveness toward others creates our own prison. Our anger keeps us from enjoying a life of freedom that God desires for us.
I learned this when I was a teenager, new to faith in Jesus and Kingdom Living. While on a mission trip to Toronto I will never forget one of the most life changing spiritual moments I have ever had. I was praying with a small group of peers and a youth leader. The youth leader was praying over me and said there was someone God wanted me to forgive in my family. And I wanted to more than ever to be a REAL Christian, a REAL disciple, or what we might call in this sermon… “A Kingdom Person”. I knew deep down that God wanted me to forgive my father but I didn’t want to deal with it. So I pretended not to know what this youth leader was talking about at first. I was angry at my dad my whole life. My parents divorced when I was quite young. I had this narrative in my head that my Dad chose being an addict over our family. I know that’s not true now, but I was clueless about what it meant to be an addict or to struggle with depression. I had some deep wounds. There was no way some magical prayer was going to fix how I felt toward him. We kept praying for what felt like hours. I heard this phrase over and over in my head “Just say the words, and I will do the rest.” I didn’t believe that for one second. “What good is it if I just say the words God, if I don’t mean it? ” But again I heard, “Just say the words, and I will do the rest.” So I finally trusted that voice in my head, and I said out loud, “Lord, I forgive my father.” Suddenly, I felt a weight had been lifted from my chest. Tears started pouring out and I was totally overcome with this spiritual rush of joy and fulfillment like I have never felt before. A vision flooded into my mind of chains being ripped apart. For the first time in my life, I felt truly free. This is the power of forgiveness. I was no longer held in bondage by my own anger toward my father. The Holy Spirit showed up in a big way that day that I can’t explain, and I haven’t quite experienced anything like it since. When I got home, I thought I would feel positive toward my dad. I did not. I still found myself irritated and disappointed around him. I talked to a spiritual mentor of mine about how the forgiveness moment I had in Toronto must have been fake. It clearly didn’t work. Why don’t I feel better towards my Dad?
“Forgiveness is a process.” This mentor told me. “Giving your pain and anger over to God is only just the beginning.”
I would love to tell you that my relationship with my Dad blossomed into this beautiful restored bond. But the truth is I still kept him at an arm’s distance just with less anger. I did however; begin to have some healthier conversations and warmer feelings toward him in my adult life. I am incredibly grateful I was able to forgive him so we could take steps toward restoration. Unfortunately, our time was cut short. My dad unexpectedly passed away when I was in my early twenties. There are many conversations we didn’t get to have. I never told him I forgave him. But I think he knew because I overheard him telling a lady friend once, “My daughter used to hate me. But ever since she started going to church she’s changed.” My dad was a witness to the transformation I experienced. He saw that I was starting to live like a Kingdom person, choosing forgiveness instead of holding on to hate and anger.
Kingdom people forgive others because God has forgiven us. But how? How do we do this?
- Saying it out loud and the person’s name.
- Praying with a trusted friend/mentor.
- Writing a letter to that person (pray/discern if you should send it).
- Write out your anger, get it all out and do something to give that over to God. Burn it. Bury it. Trash it.
- Write out a letter actually saying why you are hurt and saying you forgive them.
- Do something physical as a symbolic gesture in your prayer time.